June 19, 2018, Brick Township, NJ-- Superintendents, business administrators, and leaders from public school districts across the state met today at the Brick Township Board of Education Offices to discuss Bill S2, a proposed adjustment in New Jersey education funding that would adversely affect the budgets of a number of districts by the millions in the short and long-term.
The discussion was led by Superintendent Dennis Filippone and Business Administrator James Edwards from Brick Township Public Schools, as well as Superintendent David Healy and Business Administrator William Doering of Toms River Regional Schools. Those districts stand to lose a combined $42 million over the next seven years if the bill passes. Standing with the coalition was Glen Feldman, Chief of Staff for Legislative District 10-- represented by Senator Jim Holzapfel, Assemblyman Dave Wolfe, and Assemblyman Greg McGuckin-- which issued a press release June 14 blasting the proposed legislation.
Bill S2 is proposed by Senate President Steve Sweeney and is due to be presented June 21, making the matter urgent for affected districts, all of which have already had their 2018-2019 budgets approved.
“We know our current school funding formula, enacted in 2008, needs to be modernized, and I ask you to work with me to make these changes so we can reach this goal of full, fair funding by the 2021-2022 school year.” - Governor Phil Murphy, during his Fiscal Year 2019 Budget Address from March 13, 2018
The call to action was issued by Brick and Toms River Schools via a letter sent June 12 and addressed to “all districts affected by Bill S2.” The letter read, “[W]e would like to invite all districts that will be negatively impacted by the ramifications of Bill S2 and the loss of State Aid to discuss a plan of action for requesting a further review of the funding formula.”
Affected districts responded en masse. School leaders from more than a dozen legislative districts representing nearly two million registered voters attended. The discussion centered on the coalition’s key contention-- that the formula used to determine state education funding is severely flawed, and has been for quite some time. Components such as wealth and income are not calculated fairly; the formula fails to take into consideration PILOTS; and more than 30 towns have not had property revaluations-- a key facet in determining need-- in 25-plus years.
The goal of the coalition meeting: Halt the bill in time for legislators to truly examine and revise the funding formula, and hold Governor Phil Murphy-- who called for a modernized funding formula during his March FY 2019 budget address-- to his promise.
“Cutting aid through a formula that identifies districts that are ‘overfunded’ or ‘underfunded’ based on calculations that are materially flawed doesn’t make sense,” said Doering. “Before taking money away from our students, let’s make sure we correct the formula.”
“We’re asking legislators to take a closer look at all of this before Thursday’s vote … if nothing else, to put it off,” said Edwards. “This way, nobody loses, and it gives legislators a chance to evaluate the formula.”
The formula’s flaws seemed evident in the volume and diversity of the affected districts in attendance, which were big and small, rural and suburban, and represented populations of varying economic need. Freehold Regional; Southampton; Millville; Hazlet; Lavalette; Weymouth; Vineland; Delaware Valley Regional; Frankford; Evesham; Clearview; Logan Township; Lacey; Pitman; Shamong; Medford; Burlington City; Dennis Township; Upper Township; Lumberton; Middle Township; Wildwood; Tinton Falls; Point Pleasant; Ocean Township; Clinton; Little Egg Harbor; Manalapan-Englishtown Regional; Manchester; Jackson; Pinelands; Plumstead; Stanhope; and Middletown participated. Those 34 school districts represent 13 legislative districts, which accounts for one third of all legislative districts in NJ. Even school districts that could not attend such as Eagleswood reached out to express their support of and inclusion in the coalition.
“We’re in the Pinelands,” said Southampton Township School District Business Administrator Barbara Godfrey. “There’s no growth opportunity for us to increase our student base, so this falls on our taxpayers and residents.”
In his budget address from March 13, Governor Phil Murphy said, “We know our current school funding formula, enacted in 2008, needs to be modernized, and I ask you to work with me to make these changes so we can reach this goal of full, fair funding by the 2021-2022 school year. Together, we can fulfill the promises made a decade ago while ensuring that our dollars are spent according to the needs of students and districts today.”
More importantly, under the governor’s budget, no school district would lose funding. In fact, almost all school districts would receive some increase in state aid.
“The governor himself has acknowledged the formula is flawed, so any effort to strip districts of funding in advance of getting to the core of that issue is both illogical and needlessly harmful to thousands of students,” said Healy. “How much more of essentially dismantling our entire education systems each June of each year can we sustain?”
Last year, Toms River Regional Schools hosted a rally on the steps of High School South in opposition to the proposed state aid adjustments. Since then, TRRS and Brick Township have led the year-long effort to revise the funding formula. In fact, Doering and Healy have met with state leaders in Trenton over the past several years in an attempt to reconsider the state’s formula for education funding.
Today’s coalition meeting concluded with the understanding that the district leaders in attendance would take the fight to their legislative representatives and networks, and enact urgent efforts to halt Bill S2 and convince representatives to revise the funding formula.
Anyone interested in making their voices heard on this issue may contact his or her legislative representative.